Ron Cherry: Something different — Hot Rod T-Bucket
Special to The Union
When you think of a traditional hot rod, it’s often a ’32 Ford coupe or roadster with a 350 CID Chevy engine with a Turbo 350 auto trans.
That’s become a norm. But some people don’t like the norm.
Roy Lebeck is one of those. And when he built his T-bucket rod, it did not play by the rules.
Roy was mainly into motorcycles when he was young.
When his friends told him he should have a car for dating, he told them, “They can ride on my bike.” However, he did marry and they had children, so bikes had to go.
He hooked up with guys who were into racing, mainly Pontiacs.
They made contact with a car dealer who gave them a ’67 Pontiac Firebird that they built for drag racing and did well on the track.
During that time, Roy said, “I did more helping, but once in a while got to drive.”
Then the dealer gave them a Buick GS.
Unfortunately, that was the end of his sponsorship when they “smoked” the Turbo 400 auto trans on the track.
However, Roy stayed with cars, working as a mechanic for about 40 years.
During those years, he would “flip” cars, i.e., buy cars for a good price, do minor repairs, soup them up and sell them for a profit, but never kept one for himself.
He never actually built a street rod.
All that changed when he went to the L.A. Roadster Show in 2005.
When Roy saw a T-Bucket hot rod built by Darrell Zip, he was smitten.
Shortly after, he went to Zip’s hot rod business in Colorado Springs.
Zip told him, “You can buy one piece, 10, 15 or the whole car.”
He offered parts of cars in several formats, from simple and reasonable to elaborate and expensive.
Roy chose a reproduction fiberglass ‘26 Model T body that had bigger doors that were “suicide” (hinged in the rear) for easier entry and a 2” by 3” boxed, custom frame with 1/4 leaf spring suspension on an I-beam front end with an upside-down, split-wishbone front end.
Using the same upside-down suspension in the rear worked perfectly for a lowered look and proper alignment.
“I got the right amount of caster,” Roy said.
Although the frame was set for a V-8 engine, Roy had to be different. He went for a Mercruiser 4-cylinder boat engine.
He took it to Horsepower by Gerolamy and asked Nathan, “Could you ever hop up a Mercruiser?”
“I haven’t even seen one of those for seven or eight years, but, yeah,” Nathan replied.
Nathan built it with bored-out, monster J.E. pistons of about 4 ½-inch diameter, an aluminum head with custom push rods and roller rockers.
He kept the stock intake with a 750 cfm Quadrajet carb. At about 230 CID and 245 HP, Roy said, “We went for the best horsepower we could get, while not getting too exotic. It’s not hard to get one horsepower per cubic inch any more, but it’s a torque monster.”
Weighing only 1,760 lbs., it’s no wonder.
“It goes fast enough,” Roy said. “I don’t have to hop it up any more.”
Roy marched the beefy engine to a Muncie close-ratio 4-speed trans and a Winters “dirt-track” 3.78:1 rearend.
When Roy went to mate the engine and the trans with a GM scattershield for a bell housing, he realized Mercruisers were built for marine use, without a clutch, and the distance was shorter.
To get it to match up, he had to cut 1” out of the housing to shorten it and weld it back together.
“That was a nightmare,” Roy recalled. “I’d never do that again.”
Roy is the first to admit he got by with a little help from his friends.
Lee Wilbourne moved the cross members to accommodate the four-banger engine. Then, when Roy was having problems getting a header, he said, “Lee sent me away for a week. When I came back it was welded together.” Mark Miller custom made the seats. “He does quality work,” Roy said.
The best example of Roy being different is the radiator housing.
“Since I was in high school, I saw Model T, Model A and ‘32 Ford grills,” he said. “I got tired of seeing them. Yes, they look nice, but I like doing things different.”
So he went for a Whippet radiator shell, produced by Willys-Overland from 1926 to 1931.
When he found one, it needed work.
After about five hours of work, it was presentable.
“It’s not perfect,” Roy said, “But that’s how hot rods are.
The Whippet emblem is another story. It’s cloisonné and needed a deft hand to restore it.
Roy found a woman in L.A. who did them for Concours cars, but was reasonable. She even had a contact that could “flash” gold on it.
The result is quite impressive.
“It’s like a piece of jewelry, only on a car,” Roy said. “People can see something other than a Ford emblem. Just to be different.”
Ron Cherry’s three books, including the Morg Mahoney detective series, are available on Kindle and in print copy at Amazon. For more about his writing, go to http://www.rlcherry.com.
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